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Along with Hamilton, Bulova, and Elgin, Gruen was one of the largest watch manufacturers in the United States. Its founder, a German named Dietrich Gruen, became a watchmaker's apprentice at the age of fifteen, in 1862, and immigrated to the United States five years later. On the voyage to America, he met and fell in love with the daughter of a watchmaker who lived in Ohio. The couple settled there in 1867, and two years later Gruen partnered with a businessman from Columbus to form Columbus Watch Company. By 1874 he had filed a patent for a safety pinion for pocket watches, which protected the movement from damage in the event of a mainspring break.
Dietrich Gruen was forced out of the Columbus Watch Company after the Panic of 1893, an economic depression that shook every pillar of the economy and sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing to nearly 19 percent. But Gruen, ever resourceful, took that as an opportunity to go into business with his son, Frederick, forming D. Gruen & Son in 1894. They changed the company’s name to the Gruen Watch Company in 1898, and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The death of Dietrich in 1911 (on a business trip to Italy with his son Fred) did not kill the company, and instead it enjoyed a period of prosperity and growth under Fred’s leadership. By that time the company had outgrown its cramped Cincinnati headquarters, so it relocated to Nanny Goat Hill, a former goat pasture on a hill overlooking Deer Creek. The Gruens renamed the hill to Time Hill and constructed a factory there, designed like a guild hall Fred had seen in Belgium.
Movements were built in a factory in Switzerland (called the Precision Workshop) and assembled in American-made cases at Time Hill.
In a speech Gruen gave to a group of businessmen in the 1920s he said, “It has always been our aim, ever since I started the Guild idea, to foster those ideals of the ancient guilds, of quality and craftsmanship; to make useful things in a beautiful way, under ideal surroundings. We believe in applying art to industry as exemplified in all of our activities, from building a plant whose style of architecture suggests craftsmanship, to making the watches most beautiful, with greatest accuracy obtainable."
This spirit of “quality and craftsmanship” was imbued into the thousands of watches the company produced (resulting in sales of over five million dollars by the mid-1920s). Solid gold cases, crystals, and straps were made in-house at Time Hill. Gruen even launched an initiative to restore and refurbish customers’ older watches.
The company weathered the Great Depression and in 1935 released its most iconic watch, the Curvex. As with many watch companies, during World War II Gruen concentrated its efforts on manufacturing gauges and instruments for the U.S. military. Faced with the influx of Swiss-imported watches after the War, Gruen released a higher-grade 21-jewel movement, made entirely in the United States.
The Gruens left the company in 1953, and by 1958 the company (renamed Gruen Industries - as watchmaking was no longer its primary concern) was sold piece by piece. The watchmaking portion of the company relocated to New York under new management and continued to produce mechanical wristwatches until the 1970s, when it went bankrupt. Though New York-based M.Z. Berger has the right to sell watches under the Gruen brand name, these inexpensive quartz watches (including some novelties like Hello Kitty watches) are a pale shadow of the watches built in the glory days of the Gruens.
This handsome dive watch, the Ocean Chief, was first released in the 1950s. It shares looks with the likes of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, and Breitling's SuperOcean divers of the era - down to the characteristic concave bezel design used on the latter. The Ocean Chief is powered by the superior Gruen Caliber 560 RSS automatic movement signed with their watchword: Precision.
Not many of these low production divers have survived - many were used to extinction and the remainder have sunken into forgotten drawers and boxes. Therefore, finding examples of the Ocean Chief always thrills, but putting one of this quality on your wrist is simply heart-stopping.
Stainless steel case is approximately 39mm (including bezel). Gruen Caliber 560 RSS Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1950s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in excellent condition with sharp lugs and no signs of over-polishing, and only the slightest signs of use and wear. Rotating concave bezel has some minor signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition. Dial is in excellent condition with no signs of major discoloration or hand drag. Luminescent elements of the hour plots and hands have aged to a fine even patina. Unsigned crown. Gruen case back has some faint signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 18mm Tropic-style strap and two 18mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle.